On translation

October 19, 2006

A document I’m dealing with right now includes references to a German document—which I’ve asked for a translation of, as it appears particularly relevant—as well as a French one. Just for the hell of it I started perusing the French one, and to my delight I found that I could actually follow it, more or less. I’m not versed with the more (or even the less) technical terms, but putting context clues together with the provided figures gave me a pretty good understanding of what was being said. And of course, words like glissière are loaded with other clues (that’s just gotta be legit- and not false-cognate).

I checked several of the words on Babelfish, and they did mean what I thought they did (glissière apparently means “slide”, who’d have thunk?). Based on that, I decided to see how good a job Babelfish would do with a longer passage. The last time I tried that was in my 11th grade French class, which is a[n altogether uninteresting] story for a different time, but suffice it to say that Babelfish didn’t do a very good job.

But I thought that perhaps, 7 or 8 years later Babelfish might do a better job, especially because what I’m looking at is rather stilted and unnatural prose to begin with, and not what would pass for leisure reading. I was pleasantly surprised.

Here’s a few paragraphs of the original text:

Un socle 1 reposant sur le sol et pouvant avoir un profil quelconque est solidaire de deux glissières verticales 2 constituées chacune de quatre fers plats convenablement entretoisés en 3. Ces deux glissières sont, en outre, reliées l’une à l’autre, à leur partie supérieure, par une traverse entretoise fixé 4.

Dans chacune de ces glissières est prisonnier un coulisseau 5 guidé par des galets 6 et solidaire d’une barre 7 servant de support à des traverses 8 constituant le berceau sur lequel vient reposer le meuble bureau par son assise normale au lieu de reposer sur le sol.

Une barre compensatrice 9 est montée également à coulisse dans les glissières 2 mais dans des passages 10 indépendants de ceux des coulisseaux 5 de façon à pouvoir se croiser avec eux sans se gêner.

And here’s Babelfish’s rendition:

A base 1 resting on the ground and which can have an unspecified profile is interdependent of two vertical slides 2 made up each one of four flats suitably braced into 3. These two slides, moreover, are connected one to the other, with their higher part, by a cross-piece braces fixed 4.

In each one of these slides is a prisoner a slide 5 guided by rollers 6 and interdependent of a bar 7 being used as support with cross-pieces 8 component the cradle on which comes to put back the piece of furniture office by its normal base instead of resting on the ground.

A compensation bar 9 is also moved up to slide in slides 2 but in passages 10 independent of those of slides 5 in order to be able to cross with them without obstructing itself.

Really, not too shabby.


  • _grisha says:

    Babelfish does a decent (but far short of “good”) job with technical documents, but try anything else, and it’s rather unintelligible. Take, for example, this socially curious piece, originally in Russian. I’d be curious to know whether you can make head or tail of the translation.

  • Märt says:

    I was doing pretty well (I think) until I got to this curious sentence, which I assume is idiomatic: “Russians are set to the elbows and are reliably fixed in this pose.”

    After that point what little understanding I had started quickly unraveling, and of course the many untranslated words like “oshchushchalsya” didn’t help matters much.

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